Staff writer Carl Sederholm recently chatted with Robin Staps as he and the boys in The Ocean get ready for their part in the Summer Slaughter Tour. We've included, at the bottom of the page, links for tour dates and ticket information.
SoT: You guys are about to kick off the Summer Slaughter tour. What kinds of things can fans expect on this tour? What might set this one apart from others?
RS: For us, it's a new scenario because we have a short set time so unfortunately we won't be able to play our latest album Pelagial as a whole. We have to compromise because all the set times are really short. We have about 35 minutes and the album is 53 minutes. We will play a mix of old and new songs. We won't play the new album in its entirety. That's what makes it different from the last shows and tours we've done here in Europe lately. But, yeah, it will also be something cool for people who haven't seen us before and that are into our older material as well. We will play a couple of older songs and mix it with some new stuff. Overall, it will be an awesome tour. We will try to play some kick-ass stuff!
SoT: How much from Pelagial are you actually hoping to perform?
RS: One or two songs, maybe three, but those songs are all pretty long so if we play, for example, "Hadopelagic II: Let Them Belive," that's nine minutes already, a third of our set. We'll play a couple of songs from Pelagial and some older songs as well.
SoT: After Summer Slaughter, are you planning a headlining tour? Do you think you'll come back to the United States?
RS: We're going to do a headlining show in Vancouver at the end of Summer Slaughter. It's an extra show at the end, not part of Summer Slaughter. Then we're flying to Mexico City and then we have about five days off in the Carribean! Very nice! Then we're flying to Mexico City straight to Taiwan and then to Hong Kong in China to do a two week tour in that area. We fly to Siberia from there to Irkutsk on the Baikal Lake and then we'll take the Trans-Siberian Railway back to Moscow and Saint Petersburg and play shows along the way. I believe there are ten to fourteen shows in Russia total. We'll be out pretty much through October 1st, a three month tour that starts with Summer Slaughter and ends with Asia and Russia. In the month of October, we have weekend festival gigs in Europe and at the end of October until the beginning of December we're going on a European headlining tour. We'll be on the road until the end of the year.
SoT: It sounds like you guys are pretty big overseas. What's the size of your US audience? Is your fan base growing in the United States?
RS: It's hard to say. Record sales are pretty even, I would say. We've toured Europe like twenty five times and the US three times so of course there's more of an audience here in Europe. But, yeah, we've been generally received well in the US and we're a band that's still growing. Things are getting better with every album. We're definitely going to focus on the US and the rest of North America right now. We've only toured there three times and there are a lot of people there that can be won over to us I think.
SoT: The Ocean seems to be getting some of the best reviews of their career with the newest album. Some sites are calling it the best of the year so far. Loudwire.com said that. Our site, Sea of Tranquility, also gave Pelagial a glowing review. Why do you think this album is catching on with fans so much?
RS: That's hard to say, man. I try not to think about these things very much because then you easily get caught up in the stage of writing music to please people. I don't want to do that. I want to write music to please myself and maybe my fans. I don't want other people's opinions to direct what I write. That's why I try not to think about it very much. Of course, I'm happy to see that the album is getting rave reviews everywhere and that people really seem to dig it. Personally, it's the album I'm the most satisfied with musically and aesthetically. I feel its right. I'm really happy that people see it the same way. But, yeah, I don't want to make my writing depend on what people say.
SoT: Critics are hard to please anyway. They always have something negative to say.
RS: I follow things to some extent, but I don't read every review. It's interesting to see how an album is received. I'm not sure why Pelagial particularly stands out or why people love it more than previous albums. Maybe it's just the right moment in time for us. That's cool. This band has been around for 13 years and I'm happy to see things catching on finally.
SoT: I interviewed Orange Goblin a month or so ago and they told me that they recently went professional, quitting whatever day jobs they've had. My point is that there's something magical happening with metal right now. Maybe it isn't like it was in the 80s, but there's definitely a new momentum going on with listeners.
RS: Yeah. There's a lot of exciting things happening right now. I wasn't into metal in the 80s, so I can't really say what it was like then. I grew up with the hard core punk scene in the early 90s. But I think that in recent years, the scene has diversified a lot. What I see here is that there's more tolerance and appreciation for music with sub-directions or sub-genres in metal. Things that were once very niche or very avant-garde now appeal to a larger audience. That's cool to see because that means there's progress. Things are evolving certain way. People are more open minded towards more intricate music, towards music that is more off the mainstream path than it was a couple of years ago. I think that's a very positive development here in Europe and I guess it's the same in the US. Bands that play very complicated music are drawing lots of people and that's awesome to see.
SoT: Sometimes I like to ask bands what kind of metal they play. I get a lot of really interesting responses to that question. What genre of metal does The Ocean belong to?
RS: I really don't know and I usually leave that up to journalists to judge. I don't really like to think in the same categories that most journalists think in. It's fine to me because their job is to describe music so that other people can see whether it's interesting to them or not, but that's not my job. My job is to create music, to write music, not to think about how to label it so I usually suck at that. When we first started out, we called it Ambient Soundtrack Doom Rock. That sounds sort of gay these days, so I don't want to stick to that label. There are lots of different influences out there on us—old 60s and 70s rock to modern metal to classical influences. A lot of people call what we do post-metal or post-rock. I don't like those terms either. "Post" insinuates that rock or metal are over. I don't think that rock or metal were ever dead. It's a bit of a weird term for me that doesn't really fit so well. That's why I don't really like that term either.
SoT: I never liked the labels post-metal or post-rock either. I don't know that they have a lot of hard meaning; they are just ways to categorize, to try to describe something hard to describe.
RS: Yeah. If the labels relate to the postmodern, it doesn't make sense to me either. We aren't a postmodern band. Our music is the opposite of deconstruction. It's very constructed music, all written with a master plan in mind. In that sense it's very classical, very traditional, and not very postmodern at all. These "post" terms are really inappropriate to what we do.
SoT: Thanks. That's a really interesting response. Let's talk about the album for a moment. Pelagial is meant to be listened to as a continuous single track. How did the musical ideas develop for you while you wrote the album?
RS: It's the first album I ever wrote where I had the idea of what I wanted to do in mind before I actually started writing. We've done conceptual albums before with Heliocentric and Anthropocentric and even with Precambrian back in 2007. In the case of those albums, all the music was written as isolated songs and, in the end, I put them together in a certain order as I started thinking about the lyrics, the vocals, and the conceptual side of things. This was different. With Pelagial I knew what I wanted to do here before I started writing. I knew I wanted to do an album that was a journey from the surface of the ocean into the abysses of the deep sea and I wanted this to become obvious to the listener without knowing anything about the pelagial depth zones or anything like that but from actually listening to the music. I wanted the music to start out playful and to grow progressively deeper and heavier and lower in lower tuning while progressing toward the deep sea parts of the album at the end. That's the mindset I had when I started writing. All the music was started with that in mind. It's even more composed music, really dependent on one person writing everything as a single piece of music. It's a great challenge. It's a whole different world when you write a song that is 9 or 10 minutes long and then writing something that's 50 or 60 minutes long. It's much more difficult to get it to work, but it's also much more interesting. That's what makes Pelagial different. I wrote everything mainly in the course of 2-3 weeks in the summer of 2011. I always had the big plan in mind. Whenever I was writing a riff or another part, I always thought about where to place it on the timeline of the album, whether it was a surface part or a deep sea part. With every riff I was always very conscious about where it would belong and how to put it together in the end. A lot of it was written very chronologically. Even though the parts are divided by track marks to me its all written as one piece of music. The first four parts, for example, were written as one piece of music. The whole album was written in a very chronological way.
Sometimes I had ideas that I relocated afterwards, but always only with the idea that things would come five minutes or so earlier. It's not like things written for the end appeared at the beginning. Everything was written very chronologically.
SoT: At one point, the album was conceived as an instrumental, but you also recorded it with vocals and lyrics. The lyrics aren't really about actions in the ocean, but seem to be about inner journeys. Is there a kind of story to the lyrics or are they more about various impressions?
RS: When I originally started writing the album, I didn't want to include any lyrics or vocals. I thought this album concept didn't really need them to work. What are you going to sing about as you are diving into the depths of the sea? The lives of sea creatures? For a long time, I didn't really know how to approach it and just not have any lyrics included. But then I felt that the album would be missing something if there were no vocals and I really wanted Loic to be on the album so I started to think about it again. I came to the conclusion that it has to be an analogue journey, a journey into the human mind as we journey into the depths of the sea. I then came across an amazing move called Stalker by Tarkovsky that is also a psychological journey. It's about three protagonists who travel through a zone, much like our pelagial zones, towards the center of the zone where their wishes are supposed to come true. The closer they get, the less they actually know what to wish for. I thought this was perfect, to question the origins of our wishes and desires, how much control we have over shaping and changing them. All the lyrics are orbiting around that—the same questions in the movie. There are no direct quotes from the movie on the album, but a lot of references.
SoT: I haven't seen that film, but it's definitely on my list of things to watch. I recently learned that the film is also based on a novel called The Roadside Picnic.
RS: It's a great movie. I've watched it like 10 times. I highly recommend it.
SoT: I really liked the line from Bathyalpelagic III: Disequilibrated "When we come home at last: you'll see for yourselves how far down into the black these rays can reach." There seems to be something about the power of light that can reach people no matter how deep they are. Maybe we're never completely alone in the dark.
RS: Yes, or maybe we are. That's a very ambiguous line. Obviously a reference to the journey through the ocean. Only the first 200 meters of the water column are actually sunlit. Everything below, stretching down to 11000 meters, is pitch black basically. The light doesn't reach down very far at all. It only scratches the surface basically. In a metaphorical way, it also applies to the human psyche. How much do we really know about ourselves? About our desires and wishes? What shapes them and brings them to the surface and transforms them into actions and into the persons that we are. How much do we really know about that? I have a feeling that a lot of the time we don't know much about that. People often know more about us than we know about ourselves. That can be kind of frightening when you are confronting things about yourself. That's what this song is kind of talking about—that experience of finding out who you really are and how other people see you as opposed to how you see yourself. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.
SoT: Toward the end of the album—in "Demersal: Cognitive Dissonance"—you turn to some apocalyptic themes, the idea of the wrath of God coming out at the end and about how people want the mountains to crash down on their heads. It made me think—and this is just my own interpretation—that the more we learn about ourselves, the more we might feel ashamed of our motivations or desires. Maybe that we feel smaller when we understand all the various things that motivate us.
RS: I usually don't like explaining lyrics in too much detail because it can ruin it for people. Everyone needs their own interpretation to make them relevant to their own lives. That's why I usually keep the lyrics rather abstract. I don't to be super direct or super political—which does not apply to this album anyway. But you get the point. People need to start coming to their own conclusions and lyrics are meant to be inspirational but not always one hundred percent clear, telling people how to see things, but getting them to come up with their own conclusions and ideas. That said, this song's original text is from the Bible as you realize. I actually recited those lyrics on our first instrumental album Fogdiver which came out in 2003. This part, a prophecy, is already in there. I was always fascinated by the power of the words of that that passage. It's so monumental. Funny enough, this passage is also recited as a poem in the movie Stalker. It's being used in the movie in a very particular scene. When you go watch the movie, you will understand how it relates to the context of the album. I don't want to go too far ahead of things in that regard right now. If you watch the movie, you'll understand how it's meant.
SoT: How is Loic Rossetti doing? He had some health problems, right?
RS: He had a lot of issues with his voice recently, especially in 2011 when we spent seven months on the road. He really had trouble with his vocal chords. We had to play a couple of shows instrumentally. His voice was fucked basically. He couldn't really scream or sing. We were really unsure whether he would be able to recover because he saw some doctors and they told him that he had a nodule on his vocal chords and would need an operation and all this kind of stuff. But others said that he just needed to rest and stop smoking. For a long time, we didn't really know how where he was, how his health was. But he seems to be fine now. We just toured Europe for four weeks and his voice was fine most of the time. It is still a delicate balance. It's very fragile. If he doesn't sleep much, then it can get very bad. I'm not really worried about Summer Slaughter because we have these short sets so I think he will maintain his voice. But he's not entirely well. You won't hear it when you hear him scream, his voice is as powerful as ever, but he gets tired a lot more quickly than he used to. His singing voice, especially the high pitched parts can be great one day, but really affected by minor changes, little things like not enough sleep the night before. You have to keep in mind that his instrument is his body. We all play guitars and drums; we hit things made out of wood basically. His instrument is his body and that's a very fragile entity. That's why we don't take it for granted. We are prepared now to play instrumental sets if need be. The album was released as a vocal and instrumental version and the instrumental version fully stands on its own. It's not like we are compromising the vocal version. The album was already set originally to be instrumental. That's what's cool about this now. If Loic is not well, then we can still perform and we can still pull off what we do atmospherically and musically I think. We have done that on the recent European shows. We played two shows instrumentally and it worked out fine. It's a different vibe. It's basically like listening to the instrumental versions. There's also a different vibe compared to listening to the vocal version on CD. But both work and both stand on their own. So that's why I'm not afraid anymore. In the past, when we've had to play instrumental sets, we weren't really prepared because it meant playing songs that were written to have vocals and leaving them out which essentially is a large compromise but with this album that's not the case. If we play an instrumental set, it's just like a different view of the same music. We are offering that version of the record anyway. Quite a few people have commented that they like the instrumental version better than the vocal version. It keeps it more interesting for people I guess, if they get to see the same band play different sets every now and then. That's why I'm not really afraid of that anymore. That can happen at any point and we may even make the conscious decision to play a show or a tour as an instrumental band rather than with Loic.
But he's going to be with us for Summer Slaughter. We are looking forward to that. He plays a significant role live, especially when it comes to taking the energy that we unfold on stage into the crowd. He's also going to do the upcoming three month tour with us then we'll see where we stand. We'll see how his health is, how it's affected by all the travelling and touring or if it's all going smoothly. It's something that cannot be answered for sure right now. It's been OK on the last tour, but travelling long distances over the US and Canada and sleeping on people's floors isn't an ideal situation. I'm confident that he'll be alright.
(Summer Slaughter Tour Information)
(Click here to read our review of Pelagial)